Trenton – A key Senate committee today endorsed legislation sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney that will elevate the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, putting New Jersey in the forefront of the national movement to build a high-wage economy. The bill, S-15, approved by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, would provide steady increases that would reach $15 by 2024 for the overwhelming majority of minimum wage workers.
“This is a progressive plan to elevate New Jersey’s minimum wage to $15, putting more money into the pockets of working people so they can better afford to support themselves and their families. This has been one of our most important policy priorities for years,” said Senator Sweeney, who authored prior bills to increase the minimum wage, including the 2013 constitutional amendment that requires automatic cost-of-living increases.
“This legislation will not only be good for the families of New Jersey, but also for the communities in which they live because it will provide a boost to the local economy,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland). “For every dollar increase, there is an increase of $1.35 in consumer activity.”
Under the legislation, the base minimum wage for New Jersey workers would increase to $10/hour on July 1, 2019, to $11/hour by January 1, 2020, and then would increase it by $1/hour every January 1st until it reaches $15/hour on January 1, 2024.
The plan will make New Jersey the fourth state, along with California, New York and Massachusetts to establish a $15 minimum wage — and in New Jersey that wage will continue to grow further each year by the rate of inflation. The timetable will be different for certain categories of works in specific industries that need a longer phase-in schedule.
The plan increases the wages for farm workers to $12.50 within five years, with the opportunity for additional increases that could go as high as $15 following a study on the impact on the agriculture industry. The moderated increase for farm workers takes into account the distinct conditions of the farm sector, where agricultural businesses can’t easily absorb higher costs because they compete in regional wholesale markets. The study to determine the impact of the increase to $12.50 would allow for additional increases that don’t cause job losses or put farmers out of business.
The plan also includes tax credits for employers who hire people with disabilities, a provision important to Senator Sweeney.
“This will encourage and support the further integration into the workplace of those with disabilities, giving them the opportunity for meaningful employment and providing businesses with motivated workers,” said Senator Sweeney.
The bill also creates a separate ramp-up schedule for seasonal workers and those employed by businesses that have five or fewer workers. That group would get to $15 by 2026.
The bill would also increase the hourly minimum paid by employers to tipped workers from $2.13 to $5.13 over a period of five years beginning January 2019. It has been two and half decades since the last tipped wage increase.
The legislation also includes a training wage to promote new job skills, which would be at least 90 percent of the minimum wage for the first 120 hours, to be paid to an employee enrolled in a qualified training program.
The measure establishes the “Task Force on Wages and State Benefits” to annually report on the impact of the minimum wage on eligibility for state services and benefits and the impact on working families.
“As the increases take effect, we must be sensitive to the impact it will have on working people who are below the ‘safety net’ and could be at risk of losing benefits as their wages increase. We don’t want to see them harmed by lost benefits as they gain in wages,” Senator Sweeney said.
The proposal also includes a “parity” provision that would provide additional increases for the exempted workers to ensure that their pay scale will catch up to the top minimum wage for other employees.
On January 1, 2025 and in subsequent years, the minimum wage would increase further by the Consumer Price Index as provided in the 2013 Constitution amendment.
The committee vote was 7-4-1.